The Frolic Café is my story. The Frolic refers to an actual schooner that was shipwrecked off the Mendocino coast in 1850. Everything else in my story is fiction. Fiction means “created, invented and made up”—that is, not real, didn’t actually happen. None of the events in this story really happened, none of the characters are real no matter what you think. Everything you read is a lie.
At 9:30 PM on July 25th, 1850 a wind-powered brig named the Frolic ran onto the rocks near Point Cabrillo on the Mendocino coast and sank. It’s in the history books. You can look it up. What isn’t in the history books is what happened to the crew. Some made it to Big River Beach called Bool-dam by the local Pomo people; others refused to leave the Frolic in the rough ocean. The Frolic’s captain and officers and a few of the crew rowed one of the long boats south to Bodega Bay and reported the shipwreck. The others decided to travel by land. They were never heard from again.
A group headed overland up the coast from San Francisco to see if anything could be salvaged. The local Pomo people had already taken most of the easy pickings. The rest was at the bottom of the ocean. These first white men to visit this part of the north coast discovered the redwood forest. Logging began shortly thereafter and the Mendocino coast grew rapidly. What happened to the members of the Frolic crew who traveled by land remains a mystery. Some say the Pomo people took them captive. Others say they got lost and died from starvation. No one knows for sure. They were never heard from again.
A car drives by. Stops. Backs toward him.
“Hey, Mac, you okay? Need any help?”
He looks into a stranger’s face.
“Are you okay Mac? You look lost.”
“Okay,” he says and walks on.
The stranger continues down the road toward the ocean where the man came from. Other cars pass the man by. He falls further into the ether. Concentric rings fan out from the lump of coal in his head. Dizzy. Hop. Hop, hop. Bobble. Hop. Bobble, bobble. Hop, hop. Splat. He falls on his face. Passes out.
He awakes in a strange room, walls and ceiling of rough-cut pine. The knots swirl this way and that. Slowly two sets of eyes materialize. Green and brown. Two women.
“His eyes are open,” says the blond.
The brunette speaks tentatively. “Do you see us? Can you hear us?”
“I see you. I hear you,” he mumbles.
“What’s your name?”
He turns to the wall, stares into the empty air, sees a car, a stranger.
“Uh … Mac. It’s Mac,” he says but without conviction.
The two women look doubtingly at each other.
“Mac what?” asks the brunette.
The man closes his eyes but he’s not asleep.
“He’s out again,” says the blond.
“No, just playing possum,” says the brunette. “Mac what, Mister?”
“Just Mac,” he says. “Where am I?”
“How about you tell us who you are and we’ll tell you where you are?”
“Just Mac,” he says again. He sits up.
His clothes are a mess, ripped flannel shirt hanging off his right arm, dirty blue jeans with what looks like blood spots on one leg, scuffed sneakers, untied and half falling off his feet.
“Look Mac. We found you on the road passed out. Are you drunk? On drugs? You better come clean or I’m gonna call the cops.” The brunette’s brown eyes are fiery bright. She brandishes a gun in Mac’s face. “This ain’t no joke. Look at yourself. You look like some kinda foreigner. What the fuck you doing out here? What’s going on?”
Mac glances at the gun.
“Yea. We got a gun. Have to. After Tommy Multicolor got robbed last year everybody up here keeps guns. Two guys walked right into his cabin. Beat him up. Tied him up. Stole all his dope and left him shivering in his boots. Is that what you got in mind, Mac?”
“Not a thief,” says Mac still dazed and disoriented. “Just passing through. Don’t want no trouble. Leave soon as I can.”
“Just passing through? You’re in the middle of nowhere,” says the brunette exasperated.
“Sorry,” says Mac. “Confused. Don’t remember things.” He falls back down on the bed and stares at the ceiling.
“You watch him, Myrna. I’ll go get Roy.”
The brunette walks out the door. Myrna sits across the room from Mac. She holds the gun but doesn’t point it at him. Mac realizes he’s getting turned on. Myrna has on an orange t-shirt and not much else. He looks away.
Myrna glides across the room and opens the door of a wall closet. She sets the gun on a table and rummages through the cupboard.
“There’s some old clothes in here that used to belong to Billy. The sheriff took him away. Seems he had a couple of kids and a wife in Massachusetts. He didn’t pay his child support. You got a wife and kids Mac?”
When Myrna turns to look at him, she catches Mac staring at her.
“Well, here. I think these will fit. There’s a mirror and a basin over there and a pail of water. Clean yourself up. Roy might let you stay if you make yourself useful.”
Myrna picks up the gun and walks toward the door.
“Don’t get no ideas,” she says with a smile that confuses Mac. “I’m gonna be right outside and I know how to use this thing.”
A few minutes later a man enters. He walks with a stoop. He’s wearing a white shirt with a vest, slacks and a baseball cap. He speaks with a German accent.
“Hi, Mac. I’m Roy. Dis is my ranch. Sometimes I let people live here. Are you looking for a place to live?”
Beth follows Roy into the room. Myrna looks eagerly from the door.
“Look at you,” says Beth. “You clean up pretty well Mac. I see Myrna found you a new set of clothes.”
“Go outside. I vant to talk vith Mac alone,” says Roy.
Mac senses Beth’s hostility. He’s aroused by Myrna. It’s good the girls leave, he thinks.
“Okay, Mac, vat’s your story?” says Roy.
“Story?” says Mac, confused.
“Who are you? Vere are you from? Vere are you going?”
“Don’t know sir. There was an accident.”
“Vat kind of accident?” Roy was a good judge of people. It was required with his group of vagabonds coming and going. He sensed a deeper story that would come out when Mac was ready. “Should I call the cops? You vant to report something, go to hospital?”
“Don’t want no problems. Maybe remember later.”
“I don’t like the government poking around my property. Let’s just say ve are happy crowd here. You velcome to stay until you get back on your feet. I don’t want troublemakers. You have to pitch in and do your share. Can you do zat?”
“Yes,” says Mac. “Thanks.”
The next morning Mac fills in potholes out on the road with a wheelbarrow and shovel.
“Looks like you’re stayin’ Mac,” says Myrna as she walks up to him.
Mac stands in the middle of the dirt road with his red scarf in one hand and his shovel in the other and stares at Myrna. He has an oval face, light brown skin and dreamy puppy dog eyes. He ties the scarf around his hair and goes back to work.
Roy watches from the house. It’s the only real house on the property. Repurposed chicken coops, trailers, buses, campers and vans are spread out around Roy’s house, occupied by his eclectic group of guests. For several years Roy produced eggs. He quit the egg business when his wife died. Roy invited folks to live on his property to keep him company. They pay a modest fee or work in exchange for rent. Artists, musicians, poets, and laborers, gay or straight—they’re all welcome as long as they behave. He doesn’t care about drugs or booze as long as they don’t get out of hand. Beth and Myrna are in a lesbian group. None of the folks at Roy’s can afford to live on their own with the high rents on the coast. Roy is precise, orderly and methodical but he is a free spirit and likes to have people around. He enjoys the social interaction with his tenants.
Beth stands outside her cabin. She watches Myrna and Mac. She knows Myrna is a loose canon. It’s something she’s watched happen over recent weeks. Myrna’s been flirting with some of the single guys on the property. Myrna is captivated by Mac. Who wouldn’t be? He’s odd but handsome. Maybe it’s the weirdness that attracts Myrna. She’s always looking for a challenge. Shit, Beth thinks, I don’t need this. She knows how to get rid of Mac. She’ll get the other women in her group together to send him packing.
Later in the day Mac walks the property. A couple of young guys come up to him.
“Hey man, you must be the new kid.”
The one who greets him is short and stocky with straw colored hair parted in the middle and a braided ponytail. He wears a blue cotton sweatshirt, brown khaki work pants and no shoes. He looks like a hobbit. The other man, taller with curly black hair, is dressed in similar garb with black boots.
“Micah here,” says the taller of the two. “That’s Rafan. We work at the Frolic Café. Just about everybody around here passes through that café sooner or later. Haven’t seen you though. You just arrive?” Micah extends his hand and Rafan does the same.
“Yes.” Mac is dazed. He’s been staring at the sun.
“So, what’s your name,” asks Rafan. He and Micah pull their hands back since Mac doesn’t offer his.
They stand in silence for a few minutes.
“Well, I guess we’re off,” says Micah. “See you around.”
Mac walks on through the compound. Rafan and Micah continue in the other direction.
“What’s up with that?” asks Rafan.
“I don’t know. Let’s go see Roy,” says Micah.
When Rafan and Micah reach the house, Roy is on the couch. He has a bad back. The couch is more comfortable than a chair.
“Hi boys,” says Roy.
“Tell us about the new guy, Mac. He doesn’t seem very friendly,” says Rafan.
“Why don’shu boys get us a beer from the cooler.” It’s a warm afternoon. Beer is Roy’s beverage of preference.
Micah pulls up a couple of chairs. Rafan pops open two beers and a Pepsi. As a Muslim he doesn’t drink alcohol.
“What do you know about this guy? Is he here to stay?” asks Micah.
“Says he has amnesia. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. He might be running away from something or just lost. Got no wallet, no identification. Beth and Myrna say he was passed out on the road yesterday. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt.”
“Well, watch him,” says Micah. “We’ve had more than our share of moochers and drifters round here.”
Because of an accident, Roy wears dark glasses and a green visor. Micah can’t see Roy’s eyes but he knows Roy’s default position is to assume the best in people.
“I vill,” says Roy as he takes a sip of his beer. “Ask your boss over at the Frolic about job for Mac. He’s gonna need money.” Roy looks toward Beth and Myrna’s cabin where Mac is talking with Myrna. “Beth’s gonna get real jealous if he hangs around Myrna like zat,” laughs Roy.
Over the next few days Mac proves he’s a good worker but his heart isn’t in it. He learns a couple of things quickly. He’s not very good at country or communal living. It’s hard work. He makes compost for the garden, plants, waters, and weeds. The ground is hard as a rock. He cooks, cleans, and washes clothes and dishes. He deals with the animals, with the pump. There isn’t always hot water. He makes firewood and keeps the fire going on days when it’s foggy and cold. There’s too much hanging out and not enough privacy. There is a lot of building and fixing to do. On the good side, Mac enjoys being outside when the weather is mild.
Rafan speaks to him about Islam. Mac has no interest in religion. Mac likes Roy and most of the folks at the ranch but he knows it isn’t his scene. He knows he’s going to leave, probably sooner than later.
One afternoon Beth discovers Mac and Myrna out in the grass behind the barn. Coitus interruptus.
“It’s not his fault,” says Myrna red-faced and contrite. “It was my idea.”
Beth is furious. “I knew it! I knew Mac was trouble. All this amnesia crap. He’s here to take advantage and you’re too dumb to see it. Take, take, take. That’s what he’s all about. And you, Jesus! Horny as an old cow.” She storms off.
That’s the cue for Mac. He heads out to Albion Ridge Road and walks toward the ocean. Myrna pleads with him to stay. She tries to join him.
“No Myrna. I have nothing, not even these clothes on my back. No plans, no idea where I’m going. I don’t know who I am or where I belong. I need to get out of here before something worse happens. Don’t turn your back on your friends. This is your home, not mine.”
As Mac gets close to the highway a car pulls up behind him. It’s Rafan.
“Get in Mac, hurry! There’s a horde of lesbians on the way.” Mac looks behind him. Rafan’s right. He sees a wild band of women racing toward him. Beth is out front.
“Heav ‘n has no rage, like love to hatred turn’d, Nor hell a fury, like a woman scorn’d. Come on man, we’ve no time to lose.”
Rafan opens the passenger door and Mac jumps in just in time.
“Wow. That was close,” says Mac. “So, was that some writer you quoted?”
“William Congreve, The Morning Bride. You just learned a lesson,” laughs Rafan. “Be careful who you screw.”
“How do you know this stuff?”
“Half the folks at Roy’s are would be poets, authors, and writers. Hey listen, I packed up all Billy’s stuff. He’s not coming back. You might as well use it. Right after you arrived Roy asked me to get you a job at the Frolic. I spoke to the owner and he needs a dishwasher pronto.”
Rafan drives them into Mendocino. As spring chases winter into the sea, a warm optimism fills the air.
“Come with me,” says Rafan. “I’ll introduce you to the new boss.”